Wenger and his Coq: A commitment to average

Date published: Monday 23rd January 2017 3:19 - Sarah Winterburn

What a weekend of football. Send your mails to theeditor@football365.com


What a good, old-fashioned game of football
Arsenal and Burnley turned out an exciting, nerve wrenching game of football that I don’t think I’ve seen for a long, long time.

That was down to the wire stuff from both sides, and having been at the Emirates, I can’t remember an atmosphere like that for a long time (no band wagon jokes please!).

Sod the officials; today was about old-fashioned football and I think I might be telling people I was there for this one!
Chris, Croydon


Yet another Coq-up from Francis
Interesting that Francis Coquelin – the player brought on to ‘protect’ our lead – was slated in Sarah Winterburn’s post-match piece. It was something that was glossed over pretty much by the Sky analysts, but I’m pleased he was dedicated some words here because unfortunately he’s almost as much as an idiot as Granit Xhaka.

Whilst Xhaka’s red card obviously made our task much harder, we were still winning the game in injury time and it hadn’t cost us as such – just altered our plan slightly. We were, in my opinion, still in control. Cue the Frenchman, who cannot help but try and and do things which will allow us to throw points away.

His swing and miss in the penalty box is a ludicrous split-second decision, but it’s not the first time he’s made such a mistake. Last year at Spurs, we were 1-0 up when he decided that, on a booking, he’d just wipe someone out to make things interesting. Somehow, we managed to rescue a point late on. Not winning however, was disappointing.

It’s this kind of idiotic decision that costs us every year when it comes to winning trophies. And to be honest, the buck stops with Arsene Wenger when picking the players. He not only chooses these ‘mentally strong’ muppets, but he rewards them with new contracts. Coquelin would be fine for a team that didn’t have title-winning aspirations, like we supposedly do.

Coquelin’s Arsenal career was doomed before a loan recall and subsequent good six months. There is no way he should’ve become a regular first-team player and he is just another example of Wenger’s over generous loyalty to averageness.

He’s the type of player that’d be straight out the door under new management with fresh ideas, and I wouldn’t cry many tears in all honesty.

Final thing: Koscienly well offside for penalty, but absolutely nothing said afterwards about the one Mustafi should’ve had at 0-0. Some you get, some you don’t.
Joe, AFC, East Sussex


…Xhaka’s sending off was definitely contentious, there was no malicious intent and he didn’t follow through with the tackle. However he gave the referee the chance to send him off by going in with two feet, a very stupid decision on his part. Two debatable red cards this season but two red cards nonetheless. The sad part was that he was brilliant before his red card, probably our second best player behind Ozil. He’s been brilliant in most of the games he’s played in to be honest, but his top performances are being swept under the rug because of his brief moments of idiocy.

Wenger brought on Coquelin to do one thing, close out the game. Not to press forward at every opportunity, not to play behind Welbeck, and certainly not to foul Ashley Barnes in the box for no apparent reason. Why make that tackle on him when Ramsey is clearly in position to block any potential shot he may get off? Why take that sort of risk in the 92nd minute? There was no logic in what he did, he nearly cost us two points today just like he cost us against Spurs when he committed an equally as needless foul that caused him to get a second yellow. Xhaka’s red card was born out of frustration due to him losing the ball, Coquelin’s foul was born out of stupidity.
Matt, Arsenal fan


On Xhaka et al
1. Definite red for Xhaka. The challenge was reckless and stupid. And before it was any of those things it was unnecessary as there was no real danger ahead. I like Xhaka and personally deem him an upgrade on Coquelin in the passing, pressing and physical departments. But when it gets to the point where almost every tackle he makes equals a certain foul…

2. Why wasn’t Mee given a red for the foul on Koscielny? Eye boot to the face and all (pun intended). Yes, I understand there was no malicious intent behind it, but surely the same can be said of Xhaka’s tackle?

3. Poor old Lucas Perez. He is surely second choice behind Giroud (third choice once Sanchez starts reprising his deep-lying forward role) and now Wellbeck’s back he is in danger of falling further behind in the pecking order through no fault of his own. Wenger certainly seems to put familiarity above ability when it comes to his forwards.

4. After the restart from Burnley’s equaliser, and with time rapidly running out, there were a couple good opportunities for Arsenal to put in (desperate) crosses from the flanks but both were passed over in favour of passes, leading eventually to Sanchez’s ball to Koscielny. I think this shows self belief and composure under pressure. Two, might I add, very un-Arsenal traits.
EOD, Gunner, Lagos

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Get well soon Ryan Mason and other thoughts…
– I have painful memories of seeing players fracture skull watching games at Stamford Bridge. Doesn’t matter whether I saw the games on TV but the compassion remains same. It was a horrible feeling when I saw what happened to Cech a decade ago. I felt the same for Ryan Mason. From the bottom of my heart, I wish Mason a speedy and full recovery.

– As I saw the game last night, more than Chelsea, it was the superb Hull City that caught my attention. Only one question kept coming to me – has the PL got the next Mauricio Pochettino in Marco Silva?

– When Poch came to the shores of Southampton as an unknown entity for those who did not follow Spanish football, there were similar anti-English comments from expected idiotic-rotten-useless pundits. How can Southampton sack the manager who brought them up and replace him with a rookie who wont survive the English game?

– Fast forward four years, something similar in narrative is happening. And the first game I saw of Hull is similar to one of Poch’s game early on – at Old Trafford. By some of the deepest black magic, Fergie won the title by accumulating 89 points, countless wins that season. One of which was against an energetic, good on the ball, pressing Southampton under a new coach. Antonio Conte got his share of luck last night from Silva’s Hull. Ok they’re still a poor team in terms of personnel, but the improvements tactically and possession wise was by far superior to what Hull City have played in years. They were organised, did not allow ‘space’, were good on the ball and gave us as good as it gets in the second half. This is what Poch’s Saints did at OT despite losing 2-1.

– Believe in Silva’s methods and Hull must be okay for this season. Maybe I’m basing all my opinions/judgement on one game but intuitively Silva’s Hull reminded me Poch’s Southampton if not in same style but for many other reasons. And I dont recall having so much respect for an opponent who lost to us anyways. The only time I did have was incidentally Poch’s Tottenham in late 2014.

– Irrespective of whether Hull get relegated, I think Silva is a potentially good manager. I hope other PL teams watch Hull for the rest of the season as someone may need a manager like him (Crystal Palace perhaps?) cometh the summer. Welcome to the PL Silva, and I hope another rich addition to our existing managers.

– Now, Antonio please ask your players to wake up. Our GW couldn’t have been better. Everyone we think may be our rival (sorry Arsenal fans) dropped points. If we do something remotely what we did last night at Anfield, a league double for Pool over us reckons.

– What’s with Liverpool? Has Klopp really decided to epitomize Robin Hood? Taking points from the teams up above and providing it to the needy ones below. Very curious team Liverpool. All the excellence at Emirates, Stamford Bridge, vs Pep (and likely again) and Old Trafford (despite the draw) is being wasted at Bournemouth and vs Swansea.
Aravind, Chelsea fan


Man United cocked up their chance…
First things first: I can only wish Ryan Mason a full and speedy recovery after that horrific injury. It was a sickening moment in the game – not that it was Cahill’s fault, it seemed like a genuine attempt to get the ball – but you could tell straight away it was a nasty one. Here’s hoping that he is able to continue playing at his best once he’s recovered.

Now, onto some United vs Stoke observations:

1. I think Stoke have every right to feel disappointed to not win that game – we were pretty damn poor. We had loads of the ball but didn’t do anything particularly useful with it; we wasted a number of decent chances in the first half, and then barely created any in the second – I don’t even remember an actual shot on target in the second half until the free-kick. We had resorted to potshots from distance, and didn’t work the ‘keeper nearly hard enough. Stoke had a clear gameplan, and stuck to it well, but…

2. They were undone by probably the best free-kick Rooney has hit for about five years. I would normally put my mortgage on him either smashing it straight into the wall or way over the bar, but that was sublime. It’s been said with much greater hyperbole over the weekend, but it really is a remarkable achievement, especially when you consider how many games it’s taken him to reach that landmark – around one in two is damn impressive, no matter how you cut it.

3. Time for a Fellaini-bashing. Well, sort of. He didn’t actually do an awful lot wrong, to be fair, but it was a clear mistake to select him ahead of Carrick. I don’t really know why Carrick didn’t play but if he was fit enough to be on the bench, he was fit enough to start as far as I’m concerned. The problem here is that Fellaini is not in any way capable of replicating what Carrick brings to the team. If you’re going to use him then make it further up the pitch, where he can have a positive influence. Would Mata have been the one tracking Pieters? Probably not. But Fellaini does not offer anything like the defensive cover that Carrick does, and one of Stoke’s few attacks resulted in a goal that should never have been.

4. I’m going to say it again: we need to go and get Lindelof in January. The defence has lost its rigidity and Smalling has done nothing to convince me that he is as good as either Bailly or Rojo – the latter comparison being the most worrying.

5. The sooner Luke Shaw is back, the better. I don’t care what it takes, but that boy needs to be back in our team and the coaching staff simply have to make sure it happens.

6. I think we had a fair shout for a penalty when Shawcross handled in the box, which once again didn’t go our way. We shouldn’t have to be relying on penalties to get us back into games, but if we had been awarded (and scored it, obviously), it would have given us more time to press for a winner. It wasn’t to be, and we’ve had a few weeks of good fortune since Christmas, but it looks like our early season luck is back. Is it a coincidence that we’ve been dropping points since that happened?

The most frustrating thing is that we have now missed the opportunity to go one point in front of Liverpool. We played them at home and then had a winnable match after they had slipped up, yet we managed to only move one point closer. Spurs and City also drawing means that we really did screw up this weekend. I would say that any chance of us finishing in the top four has gotten an awful lot slimmer now. How many more opportunities do we need to move up the table? Many more if this is how we use them.
Ted, Manchester


Memphis needed leaders at Man United
The deal by United to include a buy-back clause on the Memphis Depay deal was a no-brainer and Ed Woodward has rightly gained some praise after some rocky (to say the least) transfer windows since taking over from David Gill.

Everyone seems to be in agreement that Memphis is a player with incredible potential. He has shown as much in his years with PSV, and also in the 2014 World Cup. Charlie Nicholas this week compared him to a poor man’s Neymar, full of tricks and flicks, but little to no end product. (Bit harsh on Neymar, you have to say!)

It is this that brings me to thoughts of a wider problem in the United squad in recent seasons since Sir Alex left. A lack of leadership. Mourinho has done a good job so far in his short tenure of addressing this – bringing in big personalities like Ibrahimovic and Pogba, and in recent weeks we’ve seen signs of Jose really putting a good team together.

Memphis in his 18 months at United reminded me very much of the early days of Cristiano Ronaldo. When Ronaldo first arrived in England, he was labelled a show pony. But the United squad of the day, full of real leaders like Roy Keane, Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand et al rallied around him. This even included roughing him up themselves in training sessions to put a stop to some of the falling over, and making sure the young Ronaldo learned to cut out the step overs and get the ball in the box. This was the making of the player that Ronaldo would eventually become.

Since Fergie has left, with the likes of Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra, Giggs, etc. leaving shortly after, there has been a lack of leaders in the United squad. Jose has set about improving this, essentially bringing in a new spine during the summer, so hopefully this trend continues.
James (Thoughts and prayers with Ryan Mason today), MUFC


Chelsea and Rooney the big winners
Four of the top six faced sides from outside of the title race. Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea at home in games you’d comfortably expect them to win. Manchester United faced a tricky away league fixture at Stoke, a ground they haven’t won on in four years whilst City and Tottenham played out the most eye-catching of all this weekends encounters. So what happened and who were our weekend winners?

The Merseysiders kicked off the weekend at home to Swansea. The Premier League’s top scorers played at home against the Premier League’s leakiest defence. At times Liverpool looked incredibly ponderous and as pointed out by Matt Stead, their midfield, lacking the mobility and invention of Adam Lallana – sacrificed in an attempt to cover for the loss of Mane – was abject against the Welsh club. The on-going Joel Matip saga also proving costly as their defence struggled under the pressure of Swansea crosses for which Llorente was the beneficiary. Liverpool crumbled to a 3-2 defeat in a performance which outlined their weaknesses as they attempt to overhaul Chelsea. With a fixture against the league leaders on the horizon this was a stumble they wouldn’t have wanted to avoid.

Manchester United
Looking to kick on following last weekend’s draw versus Liverpool, United started without Carrick, Martial and Rojo against a resurgent Stoke City. The most interesting exclusion was Martial who was reported to have been given no explanation. Moving on from selection the sixth-placed side started the game in much the same way as the weekend previous. Having gone behind they went on to perform as they had in several previous games this season. Excelling at breaking sides down. But inept at applying the finishing touch. Mata being the biggest culprit. The game looked to have got away from them however, Wayne Rooney was on hand to provide a moment of pure quality and salvage a point as well as keeping the Red Devila on a 17-game unbeaten run. More profligacy in front of goal and they could easily fall short of the top four.

Manchester City and Tottenham
The showpiece event of this week’s set of matches produced a mouthwatering clash with four goals and plenty of incident. A match which saw all footballing logic thrown out the window, as covered in 16 conclusions. Lloris undertook the role of Bravo and gifted Spurs two goals. City went full throttle adding attackers and ditched playing Zabaleta in central midfield. Spurs decided to completely neglect the defensive solidity they had portrayed for the majority of this campaign. However, as poor as Tottenham were they escaped with a point. A point they scarcely deserved but one which City will feel they handed to them.

Where do you start? This was undoubtedly most dramatic end to a game we have witnessed all year. The Gunners led comfortably against Burnley however, at 65 minutes, the combustible and unreliable Granit Xhaka opened the game wide open with a ludicrous sending off. Arsenal’s ability to nearly self destruct knows no bounds. But it makes for marvelous entertainment. So as we enter stoppage time its 10 v 11 and Arsenal have a one-goal lead to protect. Up step Francis Coquelin who gifts their opponents a chance to equalise from the penalty spot which they duly took. Gunners fans despondent. But with still one minute on the clock it’s Burnley’s turn to give up the chance of only their second point on the road this campaign. Alexis Sanchez dinked and Arsenal’s blushes were saved. This takes them second in the table but more convincing performances are required for a sustained title challenge.

Finally we come to Chelsea. A routine home victory against Hull was required and a routine home victory they delivered. It wasn’t without scares. A rash challenge from Marcos Alonso on Abel Hernandez nearly presented the Tigers with a chance to equalise in the second half but apart from a few strikes from distance from the impressive Maguire, Chelsea’s goal was barely threatened. Diego Costa was welcomed back to the fray and the Blues’ incredibly impressive record against those outside the top six is well intact. They have only dropped two points against sides 7th and down and this has seen them grow the gap to eight points.

So who were our winners? Unequivocally it is Chelsea. This weekend has seen the gap grow to eight points. Whilst Arsenal can also be pleased to have picked up maximum points whilst the others falter it is clear that the other runners and riders in this title race face an uphill battle in their attempts to usurp Chelsea at the summit of the division. This round of matches feels pivotal as we saw the weaknesses of Liverpool, United, Tottenham, City and Arsenal all exposed with only the latter capable of producing a result.

So who was our individual winner? Well their really can be only one winner this weekend. Wayne Rooney’s exceptional record-breaking free-kick stole the headlines on Sunday morning and it’s hard to argue anyone else in the top six as our game week winner. It was a piece of excellence very few in the division could have matched and one that was worthy of a place in footballing history.
Gary Lansley


Peter G’s weekend thoughts
* What an absolutely freaking brilliant game that was from Fernando Llorente at Anfield. The two goals, plus first-rate target work, hold-up play, neat short passes, a few tackles, everything. Excellent from Swansea City, too, to get men around him so he wasn’t isolated. And long live the January window if you can pick up players like Tom Carroll for 1/3 of a Didier Ndong.

* David Moyes is in enough trouble already, so let the record show he had a good idea with a 3-4-2-1 at West Brom. But Sunderland were awful in the first half (watch those two goals and weep), and the Baggies saw the game out without any trouble. At least Victor Anichebe is back. But if Adnan Januzaj is ever going to be a star, it won’t be in this league. A bit lightweight, a bit slow, not enough endeavour. Plenty of talent, though, and Serie A might suit his style of play.

* I like an elegant team goal as much as the next person, but there’s something satisfying about watching Andy Carroll accelerate through the penalty area and head home very very hard. Call it the Carroll Barrel.

* Southampton midfielders. Pierre-Emile Højbjerg: touch is good, a little quicker than he looks, great name. But at the moment his decision-making is very slow; that and the way he missed two presentable chances against Leicester suggests he hasn’t found his feet yet. James Ward-Prowse: decent technique, another great name, hasn’t shown much except set-piece delivery. But for the first time I can think of, he was a clear man of the match this weekend: getting into advanced positions, passing intelligently, playing good defence, scoring a fine goal. More, please, and he might be a longshot punt for the England squad for Russia.

* Tom Davies – oh my yes. And even more so Ronald Koeman, who’s finally doing what he does best, stiffening the defence. It’s three straight clean sheets now. Ramiro Funes Mori looks twice the defender he was under Roberto Martinez.

* Did you catch the ten-second bromance between Marouane Fellaini and Charlie Adam? Talk about kindred spirits. I hope they were talking about forming a band – called ‘Thug Life 2’, perhaps?Peter G, Pennsylvania, USA (Paul Clement looks like a French prefect of police)


More on Saints v Leicester
Apart from Huth and Morgan, Leicester weren’t really interested in the first half. They had a bit of a go after half time but we’re restricted to half chances outside of the box by the excellent Yoshida and Cedric.

Vardy is an angry man, flinging his arms around and generally shouting at everyone. Maybe it’s his pashun as an Englishman but he let it get to him and didn’t have a good afternoon.

This was a very quiet Saints crowd, I went to the game against Inter in November and it was a different crowd. I don’t know if it was the 12pm kick off, the cold, the iffy results lately or what but it was very subdued, even at 3-0.

Schmeichel was playing like they were one-up at 85 minutes in a knock-out game. Every goal kick was dragged right out from the start, Mr Oliver didn’t acknowledge this, of course.

Even though Jack Stephens stepped in well to fill van Dijk’s place, he will be missed when he moves on in the summer.

Always nice to see players acknowledging the fans. Tadic waved and clapped at every corner our end.
Jack no brackets

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On the Sterling thing and video tech
Well Sam (Sunday mailbox) certainly is fired up. While I’m not sure I’m quite on his level in response to this ‘cheating epidemic’, as a neutral watching the game on Saturday evening it was really frustrating to see the decision made on the Sterling incident. Literally everyone watching saw what happened. I saw it on my dodgy 640p stream. The crowd went bananas. Guardiola almost had a stroke. The Spurs players all looked relieved as f**k and even Son looked slightly embarrassed to celebrate his goal a minute later. Everyone saw it except the two people who matter. Which leads to reason that they did in fact see it and chose not to give anything because Sterling didn’t go down.

And that is the frustrating part and something I’ve been arguing with my friends about for awhile. “Refs need to stamp diving out of the game”, is the line. But this is an impossible argument to make in the current climate of refereeing. I’m not saying players don’t cheat or that diving should exist. But just at the moment there’s no real reward for a player staying on their feet when fouled, therefore they start to go down easier and easier. Sterling was a clear-cut example. But it’s the same with grappling in the box, behind play fouls, shirt tugging etc. It’s all well and good to say we need to stop this behaviour but if it’s only spotted when a player throws themselves to the ground, of course they’re going to do it.

The next time it happens that a player goes down softly, they’ll be able to make the understandable argument of, “well I felt contact, and look what happened to Sterling when he stayed on his feet”. And that’s what I find frustrating.

You touched on it in 16 conclusions and I know it’s been done to death, but for what it’s worth I’m a supporter of technology. There were reservations in tennis, cricket and rugby and it’s improved all those sports and helped protect referees and umpires. There’s enough scope in football for it to be implemented without breaking up the flow too much and I think it could only benefit the game.

That’s what I think.
Will (Walker is a very lucky boy) Wymant, EFC


Offside is worth video technology
About 10 years ago a group of mates and I were sat in a pub beer garden on a sunny Easter bank holiday weekend. I don’t remember how we go round to it but we ended up having a ‘Top three of everything’ debate. It was stuff like Top three movie cars (Batmobile won obviously) Top three places for hottest women (Las Vegas of the places three of more of us had been together won) and the most contentious debate was Top three sporting moments – non of us had been alive for 1966 so a friend of mine stated that the most spectacular sporting moment he had seen was Ben Johnson winning the 100m in 9.79 sec in 1988 Seoul Olympics.

As you can imagine this led to a lengthy, and sometimes heated debate about the legality of this achievement as he was, as we all know using performance-enhancing drugs. My friend would not budge of his view that, at the time that was a top sporting moment.

The reason I am bring this up is that the excellent Guardian Podcast recently spoke that H Mkhitaryan’s scorpion kick should be included as a goal of the season/week contender even though it was offside, but given. A contributor, jokingly (or not) said that well it was just offside but brilliant so we shouldn’t really mind.

Now over the last few weeks a number of offsides that should have been given, have not, which has led to goals that can effect the Top four and the League title. Man U v Liverpool, five yards offside. Yesterday, Arsenal’s player was more than a yard offside when the ball was played over when he was fouled for the crucial penalty. And wasn’t there a game a few years back where a goal was replayed on a big screen and everyone in the ground (including officials) could see that the player was offside but the goal stood anyway?

Now I know that a few people will stated that the game is richer of these incidents (bo****ks), and that the pluses and minuses will averages itself out over the course of a season – well I think that Opta has proven that does not happen. Some other people will say that the game should be the same on Hackney marshes as it is a Old Trafford – well I am sorry you flat cap wearing, clacker twirling technophobe but Hackney Marshes does not have floodlights!!

In cricket the umpire is given a slight benefit of the doubt on reviews – he has to be half a ball wrong I think to be overturned. Now this is a much smaller ball travelling at 90mph and he has to take into account line, length, pitch, height and swing. A multitude of factors in less than a second. Plus when a review happens if it happens to be a no ball then it is dead in the ground to start with.

Yesterday if the appeal/review system was in place for the penalty, the build-up would have been looked at and when the cross came in they would have seen the offside player and the move then became ineligible and should have gone no further.

Offside can be a finite thing (I am happy to accept a person’s closest shoulder to goal as a starting point in relation to a defender’s shoulder) – like goal line technology. I am not saying that you should have reviews for everything – I think Arsene Wenger a few years back said one per half, if you use it for a stupid corner then it’s your own fault. But with so much at stake for teams don’t people think that the refs need a little help. Because in the Man U game the ref was either incompetent or not fit enough to keep up. Either way these last two wrong decisions in such a tight season can and will effect the outcome of the league, both at the top and bottom.
Ian H


Missing the Mancini days
Reading through Jon Moz’s conclusions after the City game, I’ve found myself agreeing with a lot of his points, especially the first one and the one regarding Mancini.

Being a City fan has been a mixed bag of emotions, we’ve seen very low lows and the most amazing highs, of which I’m extremely grateful for and lucky to have seen in my lifetime (my poor Granddad missed out by a couple of years), however I’ve found it more frustrating to watch us since the successful period – a loss hurts a lot more than it used to, especially when the other top teams win or we don’t get a favourable result against one of them, which brings me onto Mancini.

I feel that the peak-Mancini era was when we played our best domestic football. The team played with fluidity, confidence and pomp, and if I recall correctly, these hallowed pages described it as swashbuckling football. I also seem to remember us having a better record against the ‘top six’, whereas since Pellegrini, I look at those fixtures and expect a loss (well, except against Utd!). I think one of the bigger mistakes we made was to sell Dzeko, sure he could be a carthorse 50% of the time, but other games he could be unplayable and he gave us the plan B that we seem to be missing nowadays. Sure, under Mancini, we still lacked consistency and the spine of the team was younger, but we were really exciting.

Still, in Pep we trust, and apologies for the rambling nature of the mail!
James, Gibraltar


Oooh la la
I had not heard of Paul Clement prior to his appointment to assistant (to the) manager at Chelsea with Carlo Ancelotti (and I missed the bit where they said he’d previously been a coach there). Consequently, with his varied and impressive CV, I never even considered him to be English. I was convinced he was French, and this was reiterated when he followed Ancelotti to PSG. Even in his time at Derby when I would have watched the Football League show, something didn’t click. Consequently, I have been referring to him as ‘Paul Cle-mon’ with no irony for several years.

Does this make me an anti-PFM, in that I didn’t give an Englishman a chance at working at these top clubs? Personally, I just think it makes me a bit of a numpty.
Stu, Southampton


Artificial intelligence in football
I’m guessing there’ll be a tide of mails about the weekend’s results so, in a ploy lacking entirely in subtlety, I thought I’d go for a left-field option to try and elbow my way into the mailbox.

I was flicking through a bunch of TED talks over the weekend and happened to come across a guy called Kevin Kelly talking about how he thinks the advent of artificial intelligence could bring about a second industrial revolution.

The general point I toook away was that early artificial intelligence won’t necessarily be better at a specific task than a human, rather the most effective way to complete a task would be by using a combination a human and machine.

This got me thinking about how this might manifest itself in football.

The obvious answer would be in statistical analysis. In the ongoing debate over whether ‘moneyball’ or ‘good old fashioned using your eyes’ is a better way of scouting players, anyone with an appreciation for shades of grey can see that the answer lies somewhere on the spectrum between the two. As we develop more intelligent programmes and machines, these can generate shortlists of potential targets which can then be investigated by a club’s scouts. How would this change the role of the data analyst? Perhaps they would become like translators, turning the ‘xG’ and ‘chances created’ (thanks Peter G) statistics that the machine spits out into attributes that the scouts could keep an eye on during a match.

This statistical analysis might also extend to the actual transfer negotiations. Once a player has been chosen as a target, a club could run another model to give an estimate of what the player might cost. This could be coupled with a model to determine how much money a player might generate for his club to get an idea of whether a transfer makes sense financially. Crucially, a club’s board or transfer panel would make the final decision and could overrule the model if they believed that the player would add certain intangibles (such as a player effect on the dressing room or the club’s brand).

On a more individual level, perhaps an A.I. could analyse a player’s strengths and weaknesses and compare these to the attributes that are most effective at a particular time (noting that as football evolves different attributes will become desirable in a given position). This could be used by coaches and physios to determine a player’s optimum training regime, injury recovery plans and perhaps even their diet on an ongoing basis.

Finally, with all the talk about using video review technology to assist officials during the game, maybe the best way to do this will be to have an A.I. acting as a shadow referee. It could watch the game at all times and alert the referee when it believes a foul has occurred and how severe it believes a foul was. The advantage of this is that it can analyse more quickly and will potentially have access to much more data such as the players speeds, the exact location of the player (i.e. inside or outside the box) and also have access to multiple camera angles at the same time. Once again, the officials would have a remit to overrule and would ultimately use their judgement to determine what punishment (if any) should be doled out.

I suppose the point is this: F365 likes to make the point that football often reflects society, and society may be on the brink of a pretty drastic change. Logically then, football may be on the same brink and it will be very interesting to see how this develops.

Unless of course, A.I. causes some kind of apocalypse and football becomes somewhat irrelevant

Dave, MUFC, Manchester

(P.S – if this gets published and people are interested, I might try writing a mail on how advancements in the ways humans can alter their bodies might change how we approach football. Or just go back to writing about United if people are bored…)

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